Kadyrov’s Power and Cult of Personality Grows

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 40

Chechnya has been literally shaken this month. According to Russian sources, 25 tremors were registered in Chechnya on October 11-12 alone (Novye Izvestia, October 13). The epicenter of the strongest shock, which took place on October 11 and was estimated at 6 on the Richter scale, was located in the mountainous part of Chechnya—the Kurchaloi, Nozhai-Yurt, Shali and Gudermes districts. After the earthquake, the authorities tried hard to convince the population that nothing had happened. This was because the elections for Chechen parliament, known as “Kadyrov’s parliament,” were scheduled for the very next day and the authorities were really afraid that the aftermath of a natural disaster would reduce the voter turnout. Moreover, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov stated during a television interview carried live by the central Russian TV channels that the voter turnout during the “elections” in Chechnya would “be no less than 100 percent and maybe even more” (RIA Novosti, October 12; North Caucasus Weekly, October 16).

Nonetheless, the elections on Sunday, October 12, went ahead and became a new shock for the residents of the republic. As was expected, it was officially announced that more than 95 percent of Chechens had participated in the “elections” and close to 89 percent had voted for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. These figures, similar to the figures cited during previous elections, were of exclusively formal significance for a population that by now has become used to the fact that the authorities always speak on its behalf during the elections. According to some sources, on the ground there was an absolute indifference toward the elections and the only people who were active were those who are officially employed by the local administrations and republican ministries. This means that only officials and bureaucrats, who simply could not ignore the elections out of fear that they would lose their jobs, actually voted. Fear of losing your job is a weighty consideration given that even according to official information released in February of this year, the number of unemployed in Chechnya reached 75 percent of the entire labor force (Rossiiskaya Gazeta – Severny Kavkaz, February 20), while unofficial estimates suggest that closer to 90 percent of the republic’s able-bodied citizens are unemployed.

On October 12, Election Day, people buried their relatives who died during the earthquake. Thirteen people were killed and hundreds wounded—dozens of those—and more than 1,000 homes were destroyed. In such villages as Bachi-Yurt and Mairtup in Kurchaloi district, the level of destruction of homes reached almost 90 percent. Mystery surrounds the degree of devastation in Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi, which is also in Kurchaloi district. Apparently a decision was made that the earthquake could have no consequences in the village where Kadyrov resides. At the same time, people found out after the elections that on the day that the authorities were trying to instill calm in the population, hospitals, schools and administrative buildings lay in ruins in Kurchaloi and Shali (Polit.ru, October 14).

Above all, people were relieved that the earthquake spared Grozny, where its force was negligible. Had the earthquake been more powerful there, the dilapidated houses that had been damaged by Russian aerial bombardment would have crumbled in front of everyone. The Grozny residents were only frightened, and fear of aftershocks forced many to leave the Chechen capital and take refuge with relatives in nearby villages. However, those who did not have means to leave the city spent two nights in a row under the clear skies because they did not want to risk entering the high-rise residential buildings. They knew well that those buildings were not safe because they had undergone hasty cosmetic refurbishment of their facades for the sake of the Chechen president’s loud and beautiful public statements, not for the benefit of the people of Grozny.

On October 16, Putin, who arrived in Chechnya to inspect the devastation caused by the earthquake, stumbled on the phenomenon of Kadyrov, who, without waiting for the federal assessment of the devastation in the area, issued an order to begin reconstruction in the hope that he would eventually receive funds from Moscow. To this, a visibly irritated Putin, who had hoped to appear against the background of destroyed houses, remarked that nobody should violate financial laws: first an assessment must be made and only then the funds will follow. Putin’s remark was intentionally kept secret from the people of Chechnya because it was necessary to show Putin as always pleased with Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya.

Prime Minister Putin had nothing else to do but to tour Ramzan Kadyrov’s grandiose project—the mosque built in memory of his father in Grozny. The mosque officially opened on October 17, and it has already become a symbol of Grozny. Built based on the model of a mosque in the Turkish town of Konya, the new Grozny mosque is the largest in Europe and can accommodate up to 10,000 persons. Decorated with real gold and surrounded by fountains, a spiritual directorate building, a hotel, and a Muslim institute, the compound of the new mosque occupies six hectares and is overall impressive, especially against the background of a devastated Grozny. An international conference on Islam was held there immediately after the opening ceremony. Not surprisingly, the conference agenda’s main theme was criticism of Salafi teachings. At the same time, all of this looks excessively propagandistic given that close to 200 figures from various Muslim countries, including Libya, Lebanon, Sudan, Kuwait, Mauritania and others, were invited to this forum and most of them were favorably predisposed towards Russia and thus unlikely to disappoint the Russian authorities by making unnecessary statements.

Prime Minister Putin was not shown the avenue in Grozny named after him (North Caucasus Weekly, October 10), although it starts precisely from where the new mosque now stands. In his constant desire to show personal loyalty to Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov is inadvertently doing him a bad favor. In Grozny the public billboards with photos of Putin are everywhere, but one can hardly find photos of President Dmitry Medvedev. At the mosque opening ceremony on October 17, Kadyrov called Putin “the hope and buttress of the Muslim world” (Interfax-religia, October 17).

The news programs on Chechen television feature constant reports about Kadyrov’s activities, including his trips, meetings and public speeches. Furthermore, anyone who wishes to appear on Chechen television, no matter what topic they are discussing, must always mention that everything is done because of Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal efforts. On October 15, for example, practically all the programs on the Chechen television contained reverential references to Kadyrov. They can include the recitation of a poem praising him or songs about his father or even a discussion by historians regarding the impact of his personality on the collective memory of the people. Many research papers on Ramzan Kadyrov and his late father are being studied and even books about them have been published on them.

Both the opening of the new mosque and Putin’s visit are signs of an increase in Kadyrov’s power. The huge mosque will become a new edifice to his self-styled usurpation of power and unlimited possibilities under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.